Thursday, January 23, 2014

Frank Miller’s best work is Daredevil: Born Again.

Frank Miller’s best work is Daredevil: Born Again.
by rick olivares

Say the name of Frank Miller and invariably the words out of one’s mouth will be “The Dark Knight Returns”, “300”, and “Sin City.”

Throw in Robocop while you’re at it. But for me, the best Frank Miller story ever is Daredevil: Born Again. Not “Batman: Year One”. Not “300”.

Born Again.

JV Tanjuatco reminds me that the first story to really put a hero through the wringer is the David Michelinie and Bob Layton penned ‘Demon in a Bottle’ storyline in The Invincible Iron Man than ran for nine issues in 1979.

Maybe so but that isn’t as powerful as what Miller and David Mazzuchelli put Daredevil through in Born Again that is a story of the systematic destruction of old Hornhead or more specifically, his real life identity of lawyer Matthew Murdock when the Kingpin of Crime learns his true name. It’s a powerful story of betrayal and redemption with a lot of twists and turns.

This is topnotch writing by Miller; nothing else he’s done before or after Born Again comes close. It’s like reading a crime novel only with pictures. The prose flows and at times there’s a wisp of poetry to it.

This I show he describes Daredevil jumping across the rooftops with his billy club during the winter: “She greets me with a blast of wind and her endless angry roar. She hums with power and tickles my legs with a thousand flirting fingers. Laughs at me, blows a gust of smoke in my face. Tricks me with slippery stone. Rattles her windows with delight as I move across her, feeling her warmth.”

Sumptuous writing.

That’s just one of dozens and dozens of writing nous Miller drops on you. And I haven’t even begun to quote the dialogue. Or lack of it.

In a one-shot Daredevil #219 after his first sterling run (it was a break between the acclaimed Denny O’Niel run), Miller writes a story of Murdock who pursues a killer in New Jersey. He presents another guise for Murdock – ‘the stranger’ who never says a word. Not a peep.

He never even put Murdock in his DD tights all issue long. This was unheard of. And it provided the impetus for the Born Again saga. In Parts 2-5 of the arc -- Purgatory, Pariah, Born Again and Saved – Murdock doesn’t even appear once in his Daredevil outfit.

In this seven-issue arc, it’s like a best-of-seven NBA Finals. It’s not too short and not too long. You sometimes wish you could see more, read more, and see Matt’s drown in that level of hell the Kingpin drowns him in a little longer but no. The prose is enough because it leaves you to your imagination to add to the misery. At the end of it all as Matt and Karen Page walk along the streets of New York smiling and happy, it is just right.

The descent into madness is disturbing and chilling. It’s painful all the more because it is all too real. A frame up that results in Matt’s betting disbarred, not having a penny to call his own, seeing him brownstone flat bombed, sleeping on the streets, getting the crap beaten out of him then thrown into the Hudson River, getting stabbed by a mugger… whew!

When he harasses ex-girlfriend Glorianna O’Breen or even calls up Foggy (only he is talking to an answering machine, it’s frightening. I fear that Matt has finally been driven off the deep end.

The man is stripped of everything he owns down to his bare essentials. Leaving him lean, humble, chaste, and as Miller writes in the Kingpin’s thoughts, “a man without fear” because he has experienced the worst that life can throw at him.

Powerful, didn’t I say earlier?

Daredevil is my favorite comic book character because he is the most real of everyone else. No particular powers and its hard-boiled stuff. It’s gritty like the city streets we know all too well enough to avoid.

There’s a lot of religious symbolism in the story that touches on Murdock’s Catholic faith (not to mention Miller’s own). And being Roman Catholic myself, it’s a source of pride and joy to see an openly Catholic superhero. With more and more comic book characters being written about as embracing various forms of sexuality, Miller’s Catholic Daredevil, written in 1987 is ahead of its time, bold, and timeless.

And the artwork. I used to think that Mazzuchelli’s interpretation of Miller’s Batman: Year One was tops. But that one had a comic book flair to it. Born Again, well, you can every panel drips with emotion. With every panel there’s a pain and joy to them. This was the Hill Street Blues of comic books.

You can see since the publication of Born Again how it has changed comic book storytelling through the years. You will read a lot of Miller in the works of Kurt Busiek, Ed Brubaker, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Matt Fraction (throw in a lot of the Image Comic book writers of the 1990s).

When I read Rick Remender’s “Deadly Class” that came out just this Wednesday, I swear it was Miller’s voice and writing on Born Again that I could glean in the prose.

And that sometimes, is the best compliment a storyline can ever receive.


How big a hero is Matt Murdock for me? I named my eldest son, Matthew, after him.

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